Monday

29th Nov 2021

Progress made in Brexit talks, but not enough

  • On the prospect of financial commitments, Davis said: "We are not yet at the stage of specifying what these commitments are - that will have to come later". (Photo: European Commission)

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned on Thursday (28 September) that it could take months before Brexit talks reach the 'sufficient progress' threshold, to move onto the future EU-UK relationship, despite prime minister Theresa May's "constructive" speech last week.

After the fourth round of talks between the EU and the UK this week, Barnier said May's speech in Florence had created a "new dynamic" and made it possible to "some extent" to unlock talks.

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May said member states should not pay more or receive less from the EU budget because of the UK leaving the bloc, and that the country would honour its commitments made as an EU member.

But, in spite of this, Barnier said that the negotiations are "not there yet".

"We are far from being at a stage - it will take weeks, or maybe even months - where we will be able to say there has been sufficient progress on the principles of this orderly withdrawal," he told journalists at a joint press conference with the UK's negotiator, David Davis.

He also warned again that there is "no possible link" between the second phase of negotiations and separation issues, and the commitments entered into in the past.

The UK has been trying to tie the financial settlement - one of the key issues of the divorce talks - to gaining access to the EU's internal market in negotiations about the future relationship.

Barnier said that he saw "no logical and coherent link" between divorce talks and talks about a new partnership.

Nevertheless, he called the fourth round "constructive" and a shift in tone marks a possible turnaround in the talks.

On citizens' rights, Davis said the UK would incorporate the withdrawal agreement into UK law, so that EU citizens could turn to UK courts to protect their rights. He added that those already holding permanent residency would not have to apply again.

Barnier called this an important move, but said the lack of agreement on the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) remains a "stumbling block" in negotiations.

"The ECJ must play an indispensable role in this," he added.

He said that other outstanding issues remain, such as reporting benefits, unifying families, and simplified administrative procedures.

However, it is also clear to see that are still deep disagreements surrounding the financial settlement.

Last week, in her speech in Florence, May pledged that member states should not pay more or receive less from the EU budget because of the UK leaving the bloc. She also said the UK would honour commitments made as an EU member.

Davis said "we are not yet at the stage of specifying what these commitments are - that will have to come later".

Barnier said the UK had made it clear that May's first pledge would be limited up until 2019 and 2020.

This would not go far enough for the member states. Even though the EU budget period officially ends in 2020, payments still continue for years after that - for projects contracted during the budgetary period.

"For the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken at 28 are honoured at 28," Barnier warned, referring to the 28 member states, which includes the UK.

Technical discussions took place on the topic of Ireland, but there still has not been a breakthrough on how to avoid a hard border.

EU leaders will discuss the progress made in the Brexit talks, but they are unlikely to give the green light to start negotiations on the future relationship and trade.

Two-year transition

Last week, May also proposed a two-year transition period for after 2019, which is when the UK leaves the EU.

Barnier said he was not surprised by the request.

Barnier's mandate needs to be changed for talks on a transition period, which could be discussed by EU leaders in October.

In the meantime, the European Parliament has published its draft resolution on Brexit which will be be adopted next week.

The draft calls on EU leaders to postpone the assessment on whether sufficient progress has been made, unless a major breakthrough happens by October.

MEPs will say that "sufficient progress has not yet been made" on the key issues of citizens' rights, Ireland and the financial settlement.

The next round of talks is scheduled for the week of 9 October.

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